Feb 162010

Totally unloaded questions here in that I’m not wedded in advance to getting one right answer, but I would indeed like to know three things:

1) Can you name any submissive love songs by men to women? Submissive here defined as: “You lead the way and are in control and I like it” or “I wish you were leading the way or in control because I would like it.”

2) Can you name any submissive love songs by men to women that you actually like?

3) Can you name any submissive love songs by men to women that you like significantly, or mainly, because of the attitude expressed in the lyrics (as opposed to “great bass line,” “very tuneful,” etc.)?

Note: Explicit or implicit gay love songs are not the subject here because they’re an entirely different set of dynamics. Judas Priest love songs have complicated submission/dominance dynamics, but they (mainly) just don’t sound like songs from a man to a woman and so the issues at stake are different.


  31 Responses to “Submissive Love Songs by a Man (to a Woman)”

  1. Mr. Moderator

    Do songs written by men for women to sing submissively to men count? In other words, must we focus on the gender roles of the lyrics themselves or can the gender of the lyrics’ author(s) trump the gender dynamic of the song’s lyrics?

  2. I will need to think about this. The submissive love songs that immediately come to mind — Elvis Costello’s “Miracle Man” and Richard Thompson’s “Backlash Love Affair” — complain about being in the submissive, er, position. They are not happy about it. Developing.

  3. Mr. Moderator

    The first song that comes to mind for me is The Flying Burrito Brothers’ “Hot Burrito #1,” also known as “I’m Your Toy.” There’s also another late-60s soul song that I recall being in a similar lyrical vein, called “I’m Your Puppet.” When I was a young, lovelorn sadsack, the lyrics of this Burrito Brothers’ song were quite comforting.

  4. Mod, re your question #1: no, they don’t count. Crucial here is that the man must be the one in the submissive position, according to the lyrics. There is probably a very long list of songs men have written for women to be in the submissive role.

  5. I think the Stooges “Now I Want To Be Your Dog” may qualify.

  6. I wanna Be Your Dog

  7. son of a bitch!

  8. Darlin I’ll Do Anything You Say – Junior Brown

  9. Mr. Moderator

    To make sure you understand my question, mwall, I’m talking about songs in which the woman is submissive but the song was written by a man who may actually have been identifying with the woman while writing the lyrics. If you want to make exceptions about what you presume to be homosexual love songs yet do not want to make presumptions about the possible motivations behind any heterosexual love songs written by men in which the woman is in the submissive role, that’s cool, but I want to be sure the Hall understands all that may be going into your thinking on this topic. Thanks.

  10. Mod, I’m not sure how we could know that the man writing the song “may actually have been identifying with the woman” character in the song. Sounds like that’s ripe for danger about backstory fallacies. So I guess for right now I want to insist on the literal (in the lyrics).

  11. Mr. Moderator

    That’s totally fair, mwall, I just wanted to make sure this issue was addressed explicitly.

    Along similar lines I’m assuming that we must rule out “Lola,” right?

  12. BigSteve

    Bend me, shape me
    Anyway you want me
    Long as you love me
    It’s all right
    Bend me, shape me
    Anyway you want me
    You got the power to turn on the light

  13. Mr. Moderator

    To be clear, mwall, the three questions you pose do not have to be interdependent, right? I mean, BigSteve can cite the lyrics to “Bend Me, Shape Me” without having to claim that his liking of that song is mainly owing to the lyrics, right? If that’s the case I’ll submit “Hooked on a Feeling.” I think the lyrics are part of the song’s appeal, but they’re not essential to my liking the song. BJ Thomas could have just as easily been singing about heroin or something else that’s never interested me.

  14. Yeah, I think “Lola” is out for that reason; there’s no woman literally in it.

    And yes, all three questions are independent: name the song/like the song/ like the song BECAUSE of the lyrics.

    But it would be good if people answered all three in bringing up a song.

    I like “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and I can say that the lyrics are crucial to what I like.

  15. alexmagic

    Lennon on “Girl” is as submissive as it gets, I think it’s fantastic and I’d say the lyrics and how they’re sold are key to the appeal.

    The “Was she told when she was young that pain would lead to pleasure?” and “When I think of all the times I tried so hard to leave her” verses are some of his best, and the heavy sigh before each “Giiiirl” back up the the singer’s claim that he doesn’t regret a single day.

    Arguably, his vocals are as big a part of why it works as the lyrics and scenario it lays out, but I’d argue it’s because of how hard they sell the situation and the singer’s wistful love of being treated like garbage by the girl who came to stay.

  16. Velvet Underground, “I’ll Be Your Mirror.” Or is that passive, rather than submissive?

  17. sammymaudlin

    I like Maggie May. That’s pretty submissive but hinges on seduction as well. Though isn’t submission somewhat required to be seduced?

  18. cdm, I’m not immediately recalling that Junior Brown song. Does he sing it straight or is it one of the funny ones?

    In “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” Iggy saves his cajones by being a dawg, and being the dawg mainly “now,” if you know what I’m saying. He’s submissive to getting down now, but it doesn’t seem like it’s a long-term situation.

    So far, “Girl” and “Hot Burrito #1” are stacking up as songs that really do follow this idea all the way through, without blinking or winking, and have people who like them to some degree BECAUSE of what they’re about.

    Good Doctor, isn’t the first recorded studio version of “I’ll Be Your Mirror” sung by a woman? There are only live versions sung by a man and so it may not have originally been intended for a man?

  19. BigSteve

    Bend Me Shape Me stops at question #1. I’m actually not a big fan, but the attitude is so unusual that there’s novelty value.

    I can’t really picture liking a song primarily because the of the attitude in the lyrics.

    And I do love I’m Your Toy, but I don’t know that I’d describe the posture in the song as “You’re in control and I like it.” The singer of that song is kind of pathetic, isn’t he? And manipulative too, I think.

  20. misterioso

    It seems to me that “Use Me” by Bill Withers works.

  21. I think “pathetic and manipulative” can still fit the bill, Steve, especially if the manipulating is relatively passive.

    I often like songs simply because of the attitude in the lyrics. I can overlook a lot of weaknesses in performance if the lyric itself is strong. I guess many people tend to look first to our own instrument, and mine is words.

  22. He sings it straight. It’s about a guy who’ll kowtow to his woman as long as he gets some lovin’

  23. Don’t know if he’s identifying as the woman, but certainly the “speaker” in this song is not Brendan Benson himself:

    Sittin Pretty

  24. alexmagic

    It doesn’t get into the details as much as other songs that fit under topic, but “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me” should qualify. “Though you treat me badly/I love you madly” and “though you do me wrong now/my love is strong now” show who’s in control, and all the “tighter! tighter!” type interjections indicate that, despite his protests, he is very happy with the situation.

    To answer questions two and three, this is another major league winner, and while the arrangement and Smokey’s voice would still be great no matter what the song was about, the whole this is bad for me/don’t ever let this end lyrical dynamic is a pretty intrinsic part of what makes the song work and it’s enduring popularity.

  25. general slocum

    Weird question. “That’s a Good Idea” and “Direct Me” by Otis Redding.

  26. The idea that it’s a weird question is interesting, General. What makes you say so?

  27. Thanks, Alex, excellent addition. You too General: can you answer questions two and three regarding these Redding songs?

    I want to add: I wondered if/when we would see some examples from black songwriters. White and black cultures sometimes have different takes on the idea of the strong woman.

  28. mockcarr

    Cruel To Be Kind by Nick Lowe. “I pick myself up off the ground to have you knock me back down, again and again.”

  29. plasticsun

    A great Detroit soul song “Puppet on A String” by Gino Washington. I wonder if there are any Heavy Metal songs which fit this category?

  30. Thanks, plasticsun. Do you like that song and do you like it to some extent because of the lyrics?

    Yeah, I’d like to know also if there are more heavy metal songs that take this approach. I mean, a lot of them are about submission, but I don’t think of many of them as being about liking submission–they tend to be about hating submission or wanting to make others submit.

  31. Mr. Moderator

    “Cruel to Be Kind” is a great one that works, in large part, because of the lyrics.

    The Band’s “Up on Cripple Creek,” which I believe I made reference to in my initial objections to your assumptions about my liking Christine McVie’s songs, is another song of submission that works thanks to its lyrics.

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